Sunday, April 28, 2013

Jack the Giant Slayer

movie review: in the picture

Jack the Giant Slayer **1/2

Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, and Ewan McGregor
Director: Bryan Singer
Tagline: Prepare for a giant adventure

Riding on the fantasy adventure wave driven by the current trend of live action fairytale retellings, Bryan Singer's Jack the Giant Slayer offers a spruced up mash-up of the Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk stories.

Drenched in CGI and slathered with special effects, the film follows the story of Jack (Nicholas Hoult), an orphaned farmhand who comes in possession of some magic beans. A series of events results in one of those beans taking root, lifting Jack's house and its unlikely occupant, the headstrong Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), up into the sky, thrusting them into the realm of grotesque giants, led by the two-headed Fallon (Bill Nighy and John Kassir). To save his daughter and kingdom, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane) puts together a royal search party, which includes the heroic knight Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the King's duplicitous advisor and Isabelle's fiancé (albeit against her choice) Roderick (Stanley Tucci), Roderick's attendant Wicke (Ewan Bremner), and of course Jack. They must go up the beanstalk, battle the giants, rescue Isabelle, and defend the Kingdom of Cloister, while the treacherous Roderick tries to enslave the giants, attack the kingdom, and usurp power.

Its star-studded cast is the film's biggest asset. He may not necessarily seem like the most ideal choice for the part, but the talented Nicholas Hoult makes a likeable (although perhaps a little too dreamy eyed) hero. The ever dependable Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci give solid performances. And it helps that the giants are given their own internal dynamics instead of presenting them as homogenous cardboard cutouts. But ever so often, the focus seems to be excessively on the action and special effects instead of on the characters. Isabelle's character, for instance, is too stereotypical and isn't presented in the most compelling way, and her romance with Jack is more yawn-inducing than exciting.

The adequate script and satisfying pace help to build some tension even though we pretty much know where the story is heading. It is the film's predictability, though, that drags it down and keeps it from being a fully engrossing experience. With stylistic elements that seem indebted to films like The Princess Bride and The Lord of the Rings, the movie owes many of its features to the classics that preceded it, and doesn't seem at all concerned with even attempting to give the semblance of putting an original spin on its borrowed styles. Combine that with hackneyed plot points, unimaginative relationships, and strict adherence to the genre's predefined pattern, and you're left with a film that feels generic and trite.

Overall, Jack the Giant Slayer is neither a wreck, nor a masterpiece. It is a functional adaptation of an old tale with surfeit action - the proceedings are too violent for very young viewers, and many of the intense and gruesome scenes might scare children - that sticks to the fantasy adventure template and takes us to a familiar territory that we've visited many times before. At no point during its 114 minute runtime does it become clear why someone thought it was a good idea to dole out a whooping $195 million on this project. Ultimately Jack the Giant Slayer is fun but predictable and weighed down by its clichés and lack of originality. It definitely isn't essential viewing, but it can be sporadically entertaining, especially if you go in with low expectations.

– Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 28th April, 2013

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Strokes: greater than the sum of their parts

album review

Band: The Strokes
Album: Comedown Machine

Releasing a brilliant album that is hailed as one of the best records of its decade is obviously a massive triumph, but it can also be a bit of a curse. Sure it portrays the artists' talents and proves their musical abilities, but it also leaves them with a slight problem: everything they do from that point on for the rest of their career gets compared to the awesomeness of that massive release, leaving them straining under the weight of their own success.

The Strokes are a prime example of this phenomenon. The rock band's critically acclaimed debut album Is This It was lauded for its raw energy and infectious tunes, and celebrated for the impact it had on the alternative and indie scenes. However, everything they have released since, no matter how good it has been, ends up being evaluated in Is This It's shadow, a comparison that is both tiring and unfair.

To their credit though (and despite whatever frayed internal dynamics they have had to endure over the years), the band doesn't seem to have collapsed under the weight of struggling to match or top their hit album, and has (very wisely) not spent the rest of their career trying to replicate their definitive record. And on their new release, the group members prove that they may have sonically moved on, but they haven't completely lost themselves in the process.

On Comedown Machine, the rockers from New York retain their garage rock flavors while offering some '80s pastiche, weaving new wave and synth pop into their sound. The group's fifth studio release sees them carry on in the direction they took on their previous album, 2011's Angles. The new set feels like a logical follow-up to its predecessor, and also exhibits sonic similarities to Julian Casablancas' solo effort, Phrazes for the Young (2009).

The group's instrumental talents are on display throughout the record. You can still find the vintage Strokes sound on this album on songs like the standout 'All the Time' and the brisk '50/50' which marries Nirvana's grunge with the Ramones' punk. Elsewhere, the synth grooves and throwback vibes take over on tracks like the a-ha reminiscent 'One Way Trigger', the funky 'Tap Out', and the groovy 'Welcome to Japan'. The Strokes make good use of their fondness for exploring different eras and then incorporating them into their own sound, resulting in a contemporary take on familiar vibes from the past. It might take a few listens to fully appreciate the album's many flavors, and opinions may vary about Julian Casablancas' falsetto, plus the slick production may leave you yearning for more edge, but the well-crafted melodies embedded in its track as well as the group's willingness to take chances ultimately make Comedown Machine quite intriguing.

The last decade has been quite a journey for The Strokes, and as Comedown Machine marks the end of their contract with RCA, it also leaves doubt over the group's future; whether they choose to march on or part ways remains to be seen. All we know for now is that their latest record may not be as punchy as their first one was, but it holds its own kind of charm. The Strokes have operated under the shadow of a genre defining record, but their subsequent output shows that they have chosen not to be the victims of their own success. And that is what makes their efforts across their discography immensely enjoyable and an absolute triumph.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 21st April, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

Amusing and appalling ... in equal measures

book review

Author: Richard Benson
Book: F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers

Exams can be frustrating, and often have a knack for flustering students into making silly mistakes, botching up questions that they would otherwise have been more than capable of answering. But sometimes there’s also another snag: what if you really don’t know the answer? What if, no matter how much you think, you simply draw a blank, and have no idea how to define the term, explain the concept, or solve the equation? If you’re anything like me, then you will still try your best to put something on the answer sheet that has even a remote chance of getting you some credit. But if you’re anything like the students in this book, then you will instead use this opportunity for something completely different: exercising your creativity and unleashing the comedian in you.

F in Exams: The Very Best Totally Wrong Test Answers is a collection of such amusing answers put together by Richard Benson. The book purports to offer “hilarious, real responses from students who realized that they had no hope of answering a question correctly, and decided to have a little fun instead.” The answers are arranged by subject (chemistry, biology, physics, math, business & technology, psychology, history & geography, and English). The material here ranges from witty and clever to simply unintelligent, and often seems to be amusing and appalling in equal measures. Here’s a taste of what the book has to offer:
Question: Steve is driving his car. He is traveling at 60 feet/second and the speed limit is 40 mph. Is Steve speeding?
Answer: He could find out by checking his speedometer.

Question: To change centimeters to meters, you _____.
Answer: Take out centi.

Question: Describe the term “stakeholder”.
Answer: A vampire hunter. Buffy being the most famous.

Question: What is a network?
Answer: When you chat to people you don’t like to try and get a job.

Question: Describe what is meant by forgetting.
Answer. I can’t remember.

Question: Name the successor of the first Roman emperor.
Answer: The second Roman emperor.

Amused? Then you will enjoy this book. Appalled? Then just wait till you read what else the students came up with.

The reaction F in Exams draws is decidedly mixed. For most students, grades aren’t a laughing matter; no one around me would have been amused if I didn’t even try to give proper answers and instead came up with smart alec-y responses, and I wouldn’t have been amused if my students did the same (and luckily, they never did). Which leads to an issue: are these answers even real? The book fails to mention its sources, doesn’t offer citations, and gives no explanation of the data collection methods. Sure it is meant to be entertaining, but is it really factual? Are these, in fact, real answers? If so, then how were they collected? Who were the students that came up with these amusing statements? And what were the teachers’ responses to them? Or did the author just come up with the answers himself? In which case, is the output amusing at all?

Overall, F in Exams is a (very) quick read – you will be done with the book in minutes – and its content varies from being witty to dim-witted; some responses are funny, others less so. And the validity of the “real” claim seems a little suspect, at least for some of the answers, a problem that could have been avoided by making use of a little transparency. Still, if you have ever wanted to scribble on your exam, sure that there’s no way to salvage the test and your grade, then you will relate to the predicament of these students, and if you need a small break from studying, then F in Exams will provide some laughs and a few moments of relief.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 18th April, 2013

Educational websites: Learn

cyberia: on campus

Scouring the web for useful educational resources

Interactive Classes
Udacity is an initiative to “bring accessible, affordable, engaging, and highly effective higher education to the world”. The service seeks to help you invent your future through free interactive college classes that anyone can take at any time. You can find courses in subjects including computer science, web development, artificial intelligence, algebra, differential equations, statistics, physics, and a whole lot more. The website will provide you with the tools to track your progress and manage your courses; perform interactive, project-based exercises; benefit from real world examples; and become a part of an active community. You will also earn a certificate of completion as soon as you’ve finished the course to show what you know. So whether you want to supplement your current course material, brush up on concept you learned years ago, or take subjects that are not offered at your school, then simply sign up for an Udacity account and start taking classes for free right now. (You will, however, need a relatively high speed internet connection to browse the courses seamlessly, and you might not be able to access the videos as they are hosted on YouTube; luckily though, the courses can be downloaded to overcome these access issues, but keep in mind that the zips are quite bulky.)

Directory of Open Access Journals
Everyone working on an elaborate project or thesis will, at one point or another, have to look for published research journals for reference. And with the Directory of Open Access Journals, that search just became a lot easier. This website helps users find open access journals that “use a funding model that does not charge readers or their institutions for access”. All the content it links to is freely available. DOAJ wants to “increase the visibility and ease of use of open access scientific and scholarly journals, thereby promoting their increased usage and impact”. The site covers all subjects, and goes through periodicals that publish research or review papers in full text, making use of academic, government, commercial, and non-profit private sources. DOAJ aims to “be comprehensive and cover all open access scientific and scholarly journals that use a quality control system to guarantee the content”, and, in short, hopes to “be THE one stop shop for users of open access journals” online.

General Knowledge
How Stuff Works
How do Swiss bank accounts work? How does the rotating detonation engine function? What is relativity? How is an electric guitar different from an acoustic guitar? How does the PlayStation 4 work? And what would happen if you travelled faster than the speed of light? You can find out all that and more at Discovery Communications’ HowStuffWorks, a treasure trove of general knowledge about everything under the sun. A source of “credible, unbiased, and easy-to-understand explanations of how the world actually works”, the website aims to “demystify the world and do it in a simple, clear-cut way that anyone can understand”. From technology, culture, and entertainment to science, money, and home & garden, you can find content in a wide array of categories. Be it car engines or search engines, cell phones or stem cells, or thousands of subjects in between, HowStuffWorks has it covered, offering comprehensive articles, helpful graphics, and informative videos to explain every topic clearly, simply, and objectively. The website is chock full of informative content that is both interesting and well presented. So if you want info on something related to your studies, want to increase your general knowledge, or want to discover a concept just for fun, then HowStuffWorks is there to help you understand the topics of your choice.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 18th April, 2013

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Racketeer

book review

Book: The Racketeer 
Author: John Grisham

He has had a successful writing career for over two decades, written more than 30 books, and sold over 250 million copies worldwide. John Grisham is one of the world’s most famous and successful authors, and his popularity is showing no signs of waning. Each of his new novels becomes an instant fixture on bestseller lists and shifts millions of units worldwide. So it is more than obvious that Grisham is doing something right, or at least is aware of his target audience and knows how to please them by spinning intriguing legal yarns that captivate his readers and keep them coming back for more.

Yet it would be hard to argue against the fact that his more recent work hasn’t been at par with his earlier releases, the ones that initially brought him to the world’s attention. That, however, doesn’t stop his tomes from being fun and entertaining reads. And his latest book, The Racketeer, is no different.

“I am a lawyer, and I am in prison. It’s a long story.” begins the novel, as we meet 43 year old Malcolm Bannister midway through a ten year prison sentence for a crime he “had no knowledge of committing”. Serving time at a Federal Prison Camp, the disbarred lawyer wiles away his time working as a librarian and helping his fellow inmates with their legal problems. He has lost his license, his freedom, his family, his reputation, but unknown to anyone, he has an ace up his sleeve and his life is about to change.

The plan is set into motion when Judge Raymond Fawcett is murdered in the basement of his lakeside cabin. With no witnesses, no clues, no evidence, no clear motives, and no leads, the bumbling authorities are at a loss and have no idea how to catch the killer.

It just so happens that Malcolm knows who the murderer is and why he killed the judge. “I have a plan,” he tells us, “one I have been plotting for years now. It is my only way out.” Pretty soon it is obvious that something is afoot, but we’re not quite sure what. As we go along, the author is very economical with the details; Grisham reveals as little as possible and keeps us guessing what Malcolm’s situation really is and what he has planned, and he purposefully leaves a vacuum in the storyline to keep the reader intrigued enough to not put the book down.

As you read on, there is no way to know or guess exactly what the real story is because there just isn’t enough information at your disposal, but it isn’t hard to figure out the general direction in which things are going. The plot takes a tangential swerve midway as we start getting a sense of what Malcolm’s plan might be. To say that the storyline doesn’t take a very plausible course would be an understatement; you definitely need to suspend disbelief in order to enjoy this yarn.

Some of Grisham’s trademark ‘small guy versus big power’ characteristics reappear in this book, and as with all his legal potboilers, there is enough intrigue to keep you reading. But overall, The Racketeer is neither a masterpiece, nor a complete bust. It’s a fun read and it will keep you turning its pages. You won’t miss much if you don’t read it, you won’t gain much if you do, but you will probably enjoy it as much as Grisham’s other recent legal thrillers.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 12th April, 2013

Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Impossible

movie review: in the picture

The Impossible ***

Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Sönke Möhring, and Geraldine Chaplin
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Tagline: Nothing is more powerful than the human spirit.

Spanish physician María Belón, her husband, and their three sons were on holiday at a resort in Thailand when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami struck Southeast Asia. Their story inspires The Impossible, a heart wrenching tale of struggle and survival in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster.

We meet the Bennet family - Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three boys, Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), and Thomas (Samuel Joslin) - as they set off on their retreat, arriving in Khao Lak for their Christmas vacation. As they enjoy themselves by the resort's pool, the tsunami strikes, sweeping them away. Separated and unsure if they will ever see each other again, the battered and bruised family members struggle to survive in the chaotic aftermath of the disaster while searching for each other.

Naomi Watts impresses as Maria, the role for which she received an Academy Award nomination, and young Tom Holland delivers a terrific performance as her eldest son Lucas, as he tries to cope with the unthinkable situation that he finds himself in. But perhaps the most impressive element of the film is the technical execution and presentation of the tsunami. As a harrowing wave takes over the landscape, engulfing everything in its path, the effect is absolutely terrifying, and the horror that overwhelms the resort is palpable.

The human drama, however, is far less compelling. The Impossible obviously aims to communicate the strength of a family's bond, the spirit of perseverance, and how tragedy brings people together. But in effect, the proceedings seem myopic and clichéd. The disaster, one of the deadliest calamities in history, claimed nearly 250,000 lives, and there are certainly thousands of harrowing, inspiring tales of survivors and survival in its aftermath. It is confusing why the filmmakers chose to focus on this particular family, why their nationality was changed (a number of high profile Hispanic actors could have been considered for the lead roles), and why everyone else - including the other tourists who suffered hardships and lost their loved ones, and especially the locals who were absolutely devastated by the tsunami - was relegated to the background. Wouldn't showcasing the plight of the locals who lost everything have made a more powerful and lasting impact? Yes, this one family's ordeal was extremely terrifying, and the viewer does get swept away by the emotional onslaught of the movie, but ultimately it's the film's narrow focus that feels thoroughly unsatisfying.

Also, it is better to go in not knowing how the family members fared, as a degree of the suspense is lost if you know how things eventually turned out for them.

Still, The Impossible displays the skills of a director who can create an impressive cinematic tapestry and tug at his audience's heartstrings. The tsunami sequence is extremely well shot, the proceedings are moving, and the acting is top notch. And as you would expect based on its subject matter, the film can be very hard, and even uncomfortable, to watch. But clichés do creep in as the film trudges on, and it does not attempt to thoroughly capture the magnitude of the destruction. On the whole, The Impossible presents a narrow but terrifying look at a massive disaster through the eyes of a family of tourists, and it is hard not to be affected by it.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 7th April, 2013

Justin Timberlake is back

album review

The 20/20 Experience embraces the style set by JT's previous albums and takes it a step further

Artist:  Justin Timberlake
Album: The 20/20 Experience

Starting out on The Disney Channel and then fronting a boy band might be suitable stepping stones for fame but aren't necessarily the best start to a career if you ultimately want to establish yourself as a serious artist. Yet Justin Timberlake has shown us that it can be done. The former Mickey Mouse Club cast member and 'N Sync singer left his band to channel his burgeoning fame into a solo career, releasing two successful albums and partaking in a number of collaborations. But after redefining his sound (and bringing sexy back, all in one go) with his sophomore release Futuresex/Lovesounds in 2006, JT chose to take a musical hiatus and pursue acting instead.

Now, after a six-year break, the singer returns, with pomp and promotion machines in full swing, to reclaim his position on the pop throne with his third studio album, The 20/20 Experience. Drenched in hype and strained with ambition, the release puts forth another set of polished contemporary R&B tracks that are extendedly long and experimentally indulgent.

Just like the old-school vibe that has been employed in the run up campaign to the album, the record itself harks back to the suavity of a bygone era and embellishes it with modern touches. Wrapped in a shroud of slick production and immersed in a wave of throwback vibes, the record embraces the style set by its predecessor and then takes it a step further. Rejoining him in the studio is Timbaland, who shares the producer's chair with both the singer as well as Jerome "J-Roc" Harmon for the bulk of the record.

From the funky opener 'Pusher Love Girl' to the smooth closer 'Blue Ocean Floor', the production team weaves synths, strings, and horns into a textured tapestry that presents a mix of vintage and contemporary. The Michael Jackson and Prince comparisons don't cease with the new record, and flavours of Robin Thicke and Frank Ocean also surface. 'Let the Groove Get In' in particular reminds the listener of Michael Jackson's 'Wanna Be Starting Something' and 'Blue Ocean Floor' seems to make a play for Frank Ocean's Channel Orange earnestness.

However, it doesn't take long to notice that the album's sonic never connects with anything substantial. Just give the track listing a cursory glance and you will find songs with titles like 'Strawberry Bubblegum' and 'Spaceship Coupe' on the set; give them a close listen and you'll see that their content is just as daft as their titles. Saucy lyrics drenched in banal metaphors with cheap euphemisms thrown in for some misguided reason are not nearly as classy or charming as the songwriters appear to think. This may be music you can see, but a couple of times one can't help but wish it were music you could feel too. And then it starts to seem like they were so busy bloating the tracks that they forget to add substance to the mix. At times the album feels like it's saturated to the point that it lacks clarity; it might have helped if at some point the production team realized that sometimes displaying restraint can be just as important as being adventurous. The songs are frequently over seven minutes long, and the lack of charming content coupled with similar effects at length make it seem like aimless musical wandering, with the musician giving us an overlong piece to sift through and hunt for the exceptional bits ourselves.

Overall, The 20/20 Experience is well crafted but superficial, a record that can be lauded for its ambition but that could also have made a deeper connection with the listener if its maker so desired. Its musical choices are interesting and its experimentation impressive, but it ultimately feels like a producer's album instead of a singer's record. It is likely to take you multiple listens to really get to know the sonic intricacies of the tracks, and the album grows on you with every listen.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 7th April, 2013

“Our youth is entertainment starved!”

interview: sound waves

Musician Xulfi Khan speaks to Instep on Sunday about the lack of good music and the YouTube ban as the Basement series goes on tour

After displaying their talents on television, the participants of Nescafé Basement are now going on tour. The fifteen aspiring musicians who came together for the program last year are currently performing at various educational institutes, bringing the tunes they sang on the show to a live audience.

“It's quite an experience,” says the group's mentor Xulfi Jabbar Khan, the guitarist of Call who initiated the project, “not just for us as a huge band, but for the audience as well.” The Basement participants include a diverse group of mostly undiscovered musicians from different parts of the country, and largely performed covers of pop, rock, and foreign tracks, as well as a few original compositions as part of the television show. “I believe this is the most diverse live lineup our country has ever seen,” Xulfi enthuses, “and considering these are not the established names of the Pakistani music scene that the band is comprised of, it becomes all the more special and unique.”

So far, the team has performed at FAST-NU, LUMS, and PIFD in Lahore, and are now in the process of expanding the tour and visiting more venues. “We will be performing at quite a few top universities of Lahore and Islamabad, as now other institutes have approached us after getting to know of our tour.” The tour, however, will remain exclusively for educational institutions for the foreseeable future in order to focus on the youth. “I believe that our youth is entertainment starved,” explains the guitarist. “Television shows us dramas, and then more dramas in the form of politics. That is all the entertainment most women and men need for the day. As for the youth, they are still, thankfully, music listeners and that's where they look for entertainment. Universities and colleges are your best bet for reaching out to this youth.

“[We have received] an overwhelming and extremely energetic reaction from the crowd everywhere,” he continues. “It has put my faith back in the Pakistani music fans. I now believe, more than ever, that our country appreciates great live music wherever it comes from. It is good news for all the aspiring artists of Pakistan.” The material they are performing may be the same as what they did for the TV show, but the project leader assures us that the impact is even more powerful. “Yes, the songs [are the same], but trust me, when you hear it live with such an amazing array of instruments, it is a completely different experience and a more memorable one. As I said before, this is the most diverse live lineup Pakistan has ever seen. This is the future of Pakistani music. I want to personally invite you to one of these shows to lend an ear to the Nescafé Basement's music live. Trust me, your faith in Pakistan's music's future will only be strengthened.

“This is the time to support our talent, our music, our people, our everything,” he adds, “if we want to at least lay a foundation for a music industry that can thrive tremendously in the presence of a peaceful, encouraging, and positive atmosphere. The talent is there. The system isn't. The motive isn't.”

Xulfi also bemoans the current state of affairs of Pakistani television channels and the ban on YouTube. “Usually, Pakistani music does not get a lot of airtime on our channels for obvious reasons,” he reflects. “The music from across the border, mostly brainless, laced with obscene visuals, is what most of the audiences of our country prefers listening to. And to think this is the country that banned YouTube because some people used it to disrespected our religion through a story and visuals that were downright and shamefully obscene. True, that was a completely wrong act on the part of that individual, but if we keep banning entire networks for one person's actions, then I guess we should also ban our entries into all countries where even one person disrespected our religion. That should be the next logical step, I guess. Who knows, it might happen too as insanity prevails, thrives, and most sadly, evolves. On a lighter note though, I request the government to unban YouTube and ban Vimeo and Dailymotion instead. We are giving them two for one. They might think it's a good deal to make.”

As for Nescafé Basement itself, the show is set to return later this year for its second season, and the search is currently underway for new musicians for the next cycle. “We are looking at a more solid, yet a more interesting format for this year,” Xulfi reveals, “but the aim will remain to create music that is raw, energetic, and instrumental. Trust me, it will be bigger and better and it's going to blow you away.”

Xulfi says that hundreds of new musicians have contacted him since the first season of the Basement and expressed an interest in being a part of the project, and he is now in the process of recruiting the cast for season two. “Rare instrument players who are young, that I thought will be very difficult to find and discover, have gotten through to me one way or the other because they are intensely passionate about their music and have true faith in their skills and talents. The number of budding musicians that have come forth for the next season eclipses last year's.”

Additionally, students have been encouraged to audition by visiting booths that have been placed at their institutes. “Nescafé Basement Booths have been placed in most universities and colleges of Pakistan where the musicians and singers have the chance to express their skill and their voices,” he explains. “I am in the process of watching all these auditions as well nowadays. Trust me, our country is full of raw talent that is waiting to be unearthed. I just wish all other systems of our country could make way for a peaceful nation. And then, a musician might just not think twice when choosing a music career.”

Xulfi is not willing to reveal whether any of the artists from the first season will return for the second season, and he is also cryptic about his plans with Call. “Call is performing live with Mustafa Zahid (Roxen) at the moment, but there is something new cooking in the wings, and that shall remain a surprise too, a great one for all the fans! A new video is definitely coming. But I want to keep the song and the lineup a secret at the moment. But trust me, it is neither going to be a circus, nor a four minute soap opera. It is going to be what Call is known to do best: rock.”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 7th April, 2013

Friday, April 05, 2013

Celebrity Q&A: Head of State for a day


If you were made the Head of State of Pakistan for one day, what would you do?

Haroon Rashid: Increase the education budget by 1000%; make friends with our neighbours; increase women’s rights; make it mandatory for every TV channel and radio channel to have positive social public service messages; have free Wi-Fi in as many areas as possible to increase the flow of information and education; start a mobile phone based education system; and educate the masses on inter-faith peace and build bridges between the various communities.

Natasha Saleem: Make education mandatory for all the years to come. Need it the most for people to open their minds to new ideas and ways to live to progress and for them to think for themselves and stop following mobs like mindless sheep.

Shahrukh Sheikh: I’d make arts and music education compulsory for every child. I’d put a fine on anyone who gives money to beggars instead of charity organisations. I’ll make entertainment completely tax-free, and make it accessible to people belonging to every class.

Xulfi: I think every thing “wrong” in our country is due to a certain mindset we have developed as a nation over time. Hence, to solve this, I will not make hasty changes to the system, but would introduce a subject in our every coursework. That subject will be called Humanity. Before anyone is taught Pakistan Studies, Islamiyat, Mathematics, Physics, etcetera, this would be a course they need to study, understand, and pass before they can attempt any other subjects. This solution is due to the frustration I have with the present “everything” in our country. The general mindset of our people stops us from evolving and caring about our fellow humans, irrespective of cast and religion. Maybe we cannot change the present generation. Therefore, my solution, whatever it might be, will be to try and make a better and more human next generation of Pakistanis.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 5th April, 2013